The first 27 seconds of a new 30-second commercial aim to make viewers drool. The last three seconds deliver a surprise.
The ad opens with the camera focused tightly on four thick burgers, sizzling on a flat grill, oozing juice. Nothing else is visible.
A gravelly masculine voice begins talking over the sizzle: "We l-u-uv MEAT."
As the camera pans over the burgers, the bass-baritone voice takes on a hungry urgency: "Red meat, cooked meat, ooooh." Pause. "Bubbly meat."
Two cheese-topped burgers appear. "Meat with cheese on it," the voice salivates. "More meat with cheese on it."
This mouthwatering continues as Mr. Baritone describes the meat being picked up by a spatula and placed on a bun. Now comes the surprise: a square plastic package of what appears to be ground meat. It's labeled "Impossible."
"Impossible Meat," the voice declares. "Made from Plants."
-- Meat can be made from plants as well as animals. Plant or animal, it's still meat.
-- This plant-based product is for you, Mr. and Ms. Carnivore, and you won't be able to tell the difference between it and beef.
-- If you can't tell the difference, why not buy the one made from plants? We all know it's better for us and for the environment, don't we?
The first pitch is the least important, yet it's the one that makes cattle producers see red. "How dare anyone call this laboratory concoction meat?" they squawk. They've successfully lobbied states to pass laws restricting the use of "meat" and related words to animal proteins. (https://www.npr.org/…)
As much as we might be tempted to sympathize with them, there are a couple of problems with their outrage. It's not clear, for starters, that the word "meat" means animal flesh and only animal flesh.
The first definition of meat in my unabridged Websters dictionary, 50 years old and uninfluenced by political correctness, is "something eaten by man or beast for nourishment: food." It's not until the third definition that Websters offers "animal tissue used as food."
The bigger problem for cattle producers is that while these laws may make them feel good, they won't slow the trend toward plant-based meat. Consumers know what they're buying; they'll buy it if they like it, whatever it's called.
The second pitch -- that Impossible's plant-based product can't be told from real meat -- is less controversial than you might think. Many taste tests have been conducted, some of them blind. A recurring theme in these tests is people mistaking the Impossible burger for beef. Not everyone, of course, but even many of those who weren't fooled were impressed with how close the plant-based burger came. (https://www.epicurious.com/…) (https://www.nytimes.com/…) (https://www.syracuse.com/…)
The third pitch -- meat from plants is better for health and the environment -- is what ought to concern cattle people. I continue to be surprised at how little they've had to say to the general public about it.
It's noteworthy that Impossible didn't make this pitch in so many words. It wasn't necessary. The idea that meat from animals is bad for health and the environment, that plant-based products are therefore superior, is widespread in the culture. It's what the public is told; it's what the public thinks. Impossible knows this.
Cattle people don't share the public's view. Regarding health, they argue with justification that burgers from plants are roughly similar nutritionally to those from animals. A lot less cholesterol, a lot more sodium, about the same in protein and saturated fat.
Regarding the environment, cattle people think what they do is good for the environment. That's certainly what they say when they talk to each other; they're indignant anyone would think otherwise.
You have to wonder, then, why they don't make their case to the public. Do they not see the need for it? Do they not understand the public perception that plant-based is better?
Or do they lack confidence that the facts are on their side?
Maybe they think the Impossible and Beyond products are a fad that will fade with time -- or that the price differential will limit these products' growth. A Burger King in Arlington, Virginia, charges $7.89 for an Impossible Whopper, three bucks more than for a regular Whopper. "Tastes the same, costs 50% more" isn't going to sell a lot of product, you might think.
Don't be so sure. Many of the true believers in the superiority of plants can afford 50% more. The price won't deter them, and they tend to be opinion makers. They're willing to spend more because they think the plant-based burger is better for the environment. A spokesperson for the dairy industry put it well recently when she said, "We live in societies where people can make decisions about what they eat based on their values." (https://www.nytimes.com/…)
Remember, too, that these are technological products. Over time, prices of tech products tend to fall.
To cattle folks, then, the Impossible commercial sends a fourth message: If you really believe you're doing well by the environment, maybe you should make a few commercials of your own.
Urban Lehner can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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